June and July is traditionally the quietest part of the year for people involved in the ski industry here in Japan.

Ski areas that offer summer activities – such as sightseeing lift operations, camping, golf and the like – are currently busy getting on with those activities, while others take some time off while at the same time try to make their plans for the winter. Of course, this year those plans have been hugely complicated by the covid-19 situation which has brought up many unanswered questions and delaying of decisions.

Japan seemed to have done well in keeping (official) case numbers lower than many other countries, helped along by a period of many businesses voluntarily closing during May and June. Since the last update things have generally (and tentatively) been opening to the point where few major requested restrictions remain in place. Though far from being the same, in some ways daily life for many people now feels something like it is back to some kind of normal…. well, a ‘new normal’ as it is being called. Perhaps inevitably with the opening up, though, the number of reported cases has been on the rise once again and we are left watching to see how things develop over the coming weeks. The Japanese authorities seem very reluctant to ask businesses to close once again…

On to the weather!

There has been a lot of sometimes torrential and relentless rain across Japan through much of July, including some serious flooding down on the southern island of Kyushu and some central areas of Japan too. The tsuyu rainy season should be ending any time now in many parts of Japan, leaving us with what is usually the hot and humid month of August. The lucky folk up in Hokkaido are spared a rainy season!

The T-bar lifts at the Gassan ski area have now closed for the season and little snow remains on the mountain, though you can ‘hike-up’ to get to what remains. They are now officially calling it trekking season though.

There’s action over at Nozawa Onsen in Nagano Prefecture (pictured top) where they are very busy working on the new gondola that should be opening later this year. Nozawa Onsen have also announced that they will be installing some snow making machines next winter. Artificial snow is not something that we would normally get particularly excited about, but if they can be there to assist in a situation like we found ourselves in at times last season, that can only be a good thing. As yet there are no details on where they plan to place them.

Nozawa Onsen prepares for a new gondola

Still in Nagano Prefecture, it appears that Shiga Kogen is also going to be introducing a new lift this coming winter.

The available information says that it is going to be a ‘pulse gondola’ type lift. I had to look up what a pulse gondola was, and this is what The Gondola Project told me:

“Pulsed gondolas are fixed-grip CPT systems with cabins grouped together in “pulses” rather than being spaced evenly along the cable. The entire line slows down or stops completely in stations to allow passengers to embark and disembark.”

The new lift at Shiga Kogen will only be 400m in length and seems to have 2 ‘pulses’ of 3 cabins, each holding 8 people. The journey will take just 90 seconds.

The location of the new gondola is from by the side of the Shiga Kogen Yama-no-Eki building (opposite the Sougo Kaikan 98 Building that houses the Tourist Information Centre) down to the base of the pair lift in the Giant ski area.

New gondola lift at Shiga Kogen

The 1,500m old Shiga Kogen Ropeway used to go from the same location over to the Hoppo Onsen area. That lift operated from 1960 until 2012 and was removed after closing. Since that time, the building became a restaurant and shop with the name Gateway Station, before changing again to ‘Yama-no-eki’ (which roughly translates as Mountain Station).

Shiga Kogen are calling this gondola an ‘exciting new entrance to Shiga Kogen’. With parking for 500 vehicles close by and the main bus stop within walking distance, perhaps this will become a popular and convenient way to get over to the Takamagahara, Terakoya, Ichinose, Yakebitaiyama and Okushiga areas of the resort.

It seems that Shiga Kogen fared relatively well during the 2019-2020 season, so it is going to be interesting to see how that success continues in the coming few years.

With all the current uncertainties, it is still not clear how the upcoming 2020-2021 winter season is going to shape up. As things stand right now in the second half of July, tourists are not being allowed to enter Japan and there is no sign of an imminent easing of those restrictions. In recent years, the number of visitors from abroad has been increasing at a fast pace, so both the people in the snow business and of course people planning to visit Japan this coming winter are left anxiously waiting for news.

Stay safe and fingers crossed everyone!